GCF: Marketing a la sustainability

Courtesy: Deepali Ramaiah
GCFPanel

Courtesy: Nicole Mueller

If you were on campus this Friday, chances are high that you were at least at one of the array of events at the Global Citizen Forum (GCF) by Net Impact. While the GCF was  intended to inspire and educate T-birds about using the power of business to create a social and environmentally sustainable benefits, a large portion of the events focused on marketing, a popular career choice among T-birds. Easily the biggest draw, the Marketing panel with Coca-Cola, Lead Dog Marketing Group and Unilever, represented by Javier Rodriguez Merino, Max Kabat and Chris Gyori respectively. This was always going to be a challenging and hugely interactive event, with Prof. Ram at the wheel in moderating the panel.

Mr. Merino started off by talking about sweet spot marketing–finding the balance between the functional and the emotional benefits. The emphasis today is understanding and harnessing the power of bringing sustainability and the brand together. A huge part of bringing brands and organizations together is seeking the legacy that any brand will leave on the world. Ms. Gyori agreed, speaking of consumers that see the value in that particularly in the long term, with Unilever already living with such a legacy from the inception of the company. On the agency front, Mr. Kabat spoke from the other end of the spectrum i.e. working with brands to make sure the imbibe qualities of sustainability so that it forms the ethos of the brand.

Prof. Ram pushed the panel to speak of how sustainability gets measured in terms of metrics–an area that can be murky to measure in terms of impact. At Coca-Cola, Mr. Merino spoke of a soul searching process in determining the areas of sustainability in a value creation model of business and societal impact: for them, the 3 Ws of “well-being, water, and women”. At Unilever, the drive was more towards uncoupling the business and sustainability measures, and from Lead Dog Marketing’s point of view, it differed with the reason for existence of the brands they work with. The bigger the organization, it appeared that sustainability tends to be more operations-centric versus being the focus of marketing.

Courtesy: Deepali Ramaiah

Courtesy: Deepali Ramaiah

The challenge that all the firms and agencies face is that sustainability turns out to be a corporate mandate that gets handed to the marketing team to conceive and implement because “sustainability departments” do not really exist in many organizations. A lot of these organizations face the challenge of making the sustainability organic and intrinsic to the organization–an example being Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness message. Loyalty also came in to play, with 70% of current brands expected to disappear over the years. With the focus on millenials, companies are being pushed to solve problems of their customers, in sustainability terms, versus purely creating products to cater to the whims/partial needs of the customer.

A strong message from all the panelists was to making sure to choose a passion and the importance of inclusion, humanizing brands and social purpose marketing. Acting fast and frequently was another takeaway. Ms. Gyori added treading lightly when raising the message of sustainability in organizations and teams that do not lean toward sustainability, as the initiatives could be considered to be threatening to their life, in terms of change they would entail.

A lot of fodder for thought for students and definitely a session adhering to the Thunderbird ethos!

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